The Iliad, Book XVII

Book I Book II Book III Book IV Book V Book VI Book VII
Book VIII Book IX Book X Book XI Book XII Book XIII Book XIV Book XV 
Book XVI Book XVII Book XVIII Book XIX Book XX Book XXI Book XXII

The Fight Over Patroclus’ Body

Menelaus protected Patroclus’ body and killed Euphorbus as he tried to claim his armour. As Menelaus was stripping Euphorbus of his armour, Hector, inspired by Apollo, with a band of Trojans attacked him. Initially, Menelaus withdrew but, after seeking the help of Ajax, returned. Hector had already removed Patroclus’ armour but was prevented from taking his body which Ajax covered with his shield. Hector withdrew until, reprimanded by Glaucus for being a coward and having been threatened with the withdrawal of the Lycians, he rallied the Trojans to attack the Greeks and a fight ensued over the body of Patroclus.

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The body of Patroclus borne by Menelaus, Roman copy of a Hellenistic sculpture, 1st c. AD. Florence. (c) Morio

Hector had put on Achilles’ armour and Zeus pitied his brief triumph, knowing Hector would soon be killed by Achilles, the owner of that armour. Menelaus shouted for reinforcements and Zeus covered a protective mist over the Greeks, as he did not wish Patroclus’ body to be thrown to the dogs and birds by the Trojans. The fighting was fierce, lasting all day, with Hector spearheading the Trojan attack with Aeneas’ help, and Ajax doing the same on the Greek side; there were casualties on both sides, although fewer Greeks were killed, such was their zeal to rescue Patroclus’ body.

Achilles did not know Patroclus had been killed but his horses, who had drawn Patroclus’ chariot, wept and refused to return to the Greek camp until Zeus pitied them, and promising they would not fall into Trojan hands, he persuaded them to return to battle, driven by Automedon. Alcimedon then took the reins as Automedon jumped down and killed Aretus, stripping him of his armour and placing it in the chariot.

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The body of Patroclus is lifted by Menelaus and Meriones while Odysseus and others look on. Etruscan relief, 2nd c. BC. Florence.

The gods, on Zeus’ orders, played their part in the outcome of this battle. Athena drove on the Greeks not to allow the Trojans to take Patroclus’ body and she imbued Menelaus with greater courage while Apollo urged on Hector. Then Zeus discharged a clap of thunder and a flash of lighting and, shaking his aegis, gave victory to the Trojans and the Greeks withdrew, albeit with the body of Patroclus. Zeus removed the mist he had shrouded the battle in and, Antilochus, having heard the sad news from Menelaus, ran to tell Achilles that Patroclus was dead. Menelaus and Meriones carried Patroclus’ body back towards camp while the two Ajaxes kept the pursuing Trojans at bay.